2024 NBA Draft: Terrence Shannon Jr., Dalton Knecht lead early stock risers

There are still six months before the 2024 NBA Draft and NBA scouts and executives are traveling around the country for college and G League Ignite games and even internationally to see some of the top prospects in Europe and Australia play in person. There is no consensus No. 1 overall pick this season, and there could be plenty of movement in the lottery and full first round between now and June.

Typically, NBA franchises value upside with the one-and-done talent, but there are a few seniors in college basketball who are breaking out in the first two months of the season. Illinois guard Terrence Shannon Jr. has tested the NBA waters twice already and returned to college after getting feedback from teams. It's paying off in a big way his senior year as he's one of the best players in the Big Ten so far this season.

Yahoo Sports takes a look at six players who have elevated their draft stock since the start of the season and are players NBA scouts are watching closely.

Terrence Shannon Jr., Illinois

The 6-foot-6 fifth-year senior guard is second in scoring in the Big Ten (behind Zach Edey) averaging 21.7 points per game and has consistently improved that area of his game each season. He erupted for a season-high 33 points in a win over Florida Atlantic and scored from all three levels on the court. Shannon has always been a high-volume scorer but as his game has matured, his shot selection has improved significantly.

"That's just what I do," Shannon told reporters after the win over FAU. "I feel like no one can stop me going downhill and I just showed that today. I kind of got away from that last year but now I'm just playing within the game, reading the defense and taking what I can get.

Illinois guard Terrence Shannon Jr. brings the ball up the court against Florida Atlantic during the Jimmy V Classic at Madison Square Garden in New York City, on Dec. 5, 2023. (Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images)

Shannon is one of the best guards in college basketball at getting to the free-throw line and drawing contact, averaging six trips to the free-throw line in the last two games. His 3-point shooting has improved as well at 42.4%. In a two-game stretch last month, Shannon went 10-of-15 from 3-point range.

Every year, there's a senior guard with great size who sneaks into the first round. Even though he's 23 years old, an established team looking for a reliable guard to give solid minutes in a secondary unit right away could be targeting a player like Shannon in the draft.

Dalton Knecht, Tennessee

What a journey it's been for Knecht who went from playing at a JUCO his freshman year to Northern Colorado for two seasons before being one of the most coveted transfers in the portal this past spring and summer. Knecht chose the Vols over North Carolina, Kansas and Texas and wanted to go to one of the best defensive programs in college basketball since he knew that was an area of continued development for him as a player.

Offensively, he can get a shot off from anywhere and is so strong with the ball. Tennessee has targeted him in mismatch situations and he's intentional with his decision making, not dribbling the ball too much or backing players down.

Knecht, a 6-6 senior guard, is averaging 18 points and 4.7 rebounds per game. His best offensive showing came in a close loss to North Carolina last month where he put up 37 points (4-of-8 from 3), six rebounds, three assists and two blocks. Knecht went head-to-head with Shannon on Dec. 9 and was one of the best players on the court, finishing with 21 points and scored in a variety of ways whether that was spot-up shots in transition, getting in the lane or hitting a pair of long 3s.

Rob Dillingham, Kentucky

Kentucky had the No. 1 recruiting class coming in led by five-star recruits D.J. Wagner, Justin Edwards and Aaron Bradshaw. Dillingham finished his senior season playing with Overtime Elite and was snubbed as a McDonald's All-American. Also coming in with Dillingham who has been a big surprise for NBA scouts is Reed Sheppard, another Kentucky freshman getting early first-round draft buzz.

NBA scouts were curious to see how Dillingham would fit in head coach John Calipari's system with the size and physicality of guards at the college level. Dillingham, a 6-2 point guard, has been incredible early on for the Wildcats coming off the bench and is one of the best passers and facilitators in college basketball this season. He's second in assists in the SEC, averaging 4.9 assists per game, but also playing 10 minutes less than Ta'Lon Cooper from South Carolina (5.1 assists per game). He's had no problems creating separation off the dribble for his shot and even knocked down three 3-pointers in Kentucky's recent win over Pennsylvania.

Kentucky's Rob Dillingham shoots the ball against Miami at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Kentucky, on Nov. 28, 2023. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Kentucky's Rob Dillingham shoots the ball against Miami at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Kentucky, on Nov. 28, 2023. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Ryan Dunn, Virginia

Dunn, a 6-8 sophomore wing, is getting a lot of early draft buzz for what he's doing on the defensive side of the ball. He is one of the best perimeter defenders in college basketball with his size and length and has no problem stepping out and guarding the one or two guards in a half-court set. He's also one of the shot blockers at the guard position with how well he closes out and uses his length to come from behind if he's coming over for help or recovering after getting beat off the dribble.

Questions still surround his 3-point shooting, averaging just 21% so far this season, but he's so productive while he's on the court and impacts the game positively in numerous ways. Even at his size, Dunn fights over the top of screens, doesn't get pinned and is an excellent weakside rebounder. He's the best in transition with how quickly he gets up the court and is always looking to advance the ball off missed shots. In a win over Texas A&M last month, Dunn recorded five blocks and added 12 points, five rebounds and three steals in 36 minutes.

A.J. Johnson, Illawarra Hawks (Australia)

Although the sample size has been limited in Australia's National Basketball League for Johnson, he's showing glimpses of what type of player he could be in the NBA in a couple years of development. Johnson, just turning 19, has unlimited potential with his size at 6-6 and athleticism.

Things haven't necessarily gone according to plan in Australia with Johnson seeing limited minutes for the Hawks. Johnson was originally committed to Texas before electing to go the professional route for his one year before entering the NBA Draft.

In a recent win over the Perth Wildcats, Johnson scored eight points off the bench and played 14 minutes and had one of the best dunks of the year in a poster dunk on the potential No. 1 pick, Alex Sarr. He also added three rebounds, two assists and one block in his most productive outing to date. Johnson's draft range is all over the place right now but if his minutes continue to increase and he keeps being productive with his time on the court, Johnson could solidify himself as a first-round draft pick.

Tyler Smith, G League Ignite

Smith started the season hot from 3-point range, averaging over 50% on six attempts per game, but has since cooled off a bit after settling into the season. The 6-11 forward made a strong statement early on and has commanded the attention of scouts at Ignite games who are watching four of the other draft-eligible players projected in the first round. Smith, for his part, looks much more confident stepping into shots and has become more aggressive on defense, bodying up with stronger forwards who are much older than him at just 19 years old.

"I'm really just working on trying to be more consistent on offense and I've really been focusing on my footwork and timing on shot-blocking on defense," Smith told Yahoo Sports. "Just getting my feet set and reading my opponents shoulders on when to jump, it's really helped me this year."

Smith is averaging 15 points, 5.1 rebounds and shooting 36.4% from 3-point range in 12 games in the G League.